Reference Design Episode Artwork for Bryden Wood's Built Environment Matters Podcast featuring Head of Global Systems, Jaimie Johnston MBE

In this special 'In Short' edition of Built Environment Matters, Head of Global Systems, Jaimie Johnston MBE gives us a sub-ten-minute lowdown on the benefits of 'Reference Design.' Here are the key takeaways:

Harnessing reference design in the design and construction industry

In the design and construction industry, ensuring consistency across multiple projects while allowing for site-specific adaptability can be a challenge. The term *reference design* is emerging as a beacon of efficiency and uniformity, offering design and construction professionals a new approach to achieving streamlined and flexible outcomes.

Understanding reference design in construction

Reference design is a game-changer in the design and construction landscape. It is about formulating a centralised and highly-optimised core design that can be localised and tailored to individual sites and specific conditions. Instead of reimagining a structure or facility from the ground up for every project, design and construction professionals use reference design to maintain a core structure that reflects tried-and-tested layouts and operational strategies. The very nature of bespoke design in construction can lead to unnecessary variation, potential design errors, increased costs, and elongated timelines. In contrast, reference design provides a roadmap, ensuring 80% standardisation while permitting 20% adaptability based on site-specific demands.

The versatility of reference design

The extent of adaptability in reference design is influenced by the client's requirements and the construction sector. The Ministry of Justice, for instance, deploys a highly standardised model for its buildings, which primarily alters only in orientation. On the other hand, the healthcare sector demands a reference design with more flexibility, factoring in variables like local demographics, existing facilities, and clinical specialities. In both scenarios, design and construction teams can focus their expertise on local requirements, confident that the foundational design is rooted in industry best practices.

Real-world integration in design and construction

While the public sector offers illuminating examples of reference design, its relevance in the private sector is undeniable. Crucial sectors like data centres and fulfillment centres are increasingly leaning on reference design. 

The New Hospitals Programme, a significant construction initiative in the UK, is integrating reference design principles for the development of 40 new hospitals, presenting a model of standardised yet adaptive construction.

Advantages of reference design in construction


  1. Enhanced control and ownership: For construction professionals and clients alike, a standardised design blueprint enables clearer oversight and more profound engagement with the project, fostering a sense of ownership.


  1. Optimised benefits: By repetitively employing a proven design solution, the design and construction industry can extract amplified benefits from the process. Lessons learned from previous projects can be integrated, promoting a cycle of continuous improvement in contrast to one-off designs that may miss these insights.


  1. Operational efficiency: High levels of stakeholder engagement during the design phase ensures that best practice is enshrined in the design, which delivers the most efficient asset to the client and end-users. 


  1. Swift site assessment: At the outset of a construction project, reference design provides tools for rapid site viability evaluation. Design professionals can simulate multiple site configurations swiftly, ensuring design compliance and facilitating faster investment decisions.


  1. Cost and time effectiveness: Embracing reference design principles can expedite the entire construction process, from design inception to procurement. With standardised elements at hand, procurement becomes quicker, significantly benefiting the supply chain and potentially reducing overall project costs.


In summary

Reference design is reshaping the paradigms of the design and construction industry. As the industry grapples with the demands of swift, efficient, and quality construction, embracing reference design provides a robust foundation, merging consistency with adaptability. It's an innovation that not only champions efficiency but also propels the design and construction industry towards a future of continuous improvement and streamlined processes.

Listen in to learn more.